John Dwyer’s ever-expanding psych-garage jam band, Thee Oh Sees, have about a zillion albums under their belt so far – well, 17 if you’re really counting. So you would think on their latest album A Weird Exits, that maybe they would start to lose some serious steam and settle for something more expected and archetypical as most bands eventually do. Ever since the band’s earlier days in the Lower Haight Streets of San Francisco’s underground rock scene, Thee Oh Sees have always been in a sort of perpetual period of transition– opening the door to new collaborations and musical experimentation.
The band has seen petty name changes, drastic modifications in the band’s line-up, promised break-ups and sweaty, totally unconstrained basement-shows that have allowed for the kind of manic-freakout, stagediving antics that have made their live performances legendary, Thee Oh Sees is a band that simply does what it wants, when it wants – without a hint of pretension or shame. And that’s just peachy if you’re capable of consistently putting out unadulterated mosh-pit-certified material year after year.
Much like Drop and Mutilator Defeated At Last, this record is less about chorus or melody and more about vibing-out with trippy, in-the-moment grooves. The Oh Sees have dabbled with psych-pop, kraut-inspired layerings on previous albums though not necessarily to the extent that they do on A Weird Exits. This is the first studio album they’ve made with the four-armed, cymbal-smashing duo – Ryan Moutinho and Dan Rincon – an addition that does punch up things quite a bit for particularly songs like “Unwrap The Fiend, Pt. 2” and “Gelatinous Cube”. The record is able to alternate more leisurely between the realms of dirty lo-fi and sci-fi — setting the record up for something more locked-in and steady though without losing too much of that frenetic energy we know and love from their previous albums.
Right from the beginning, we start off running with “Dead Man’s Gun” and “Ticklish Warrior” before slamming head first into the astral stratosphere with “Jammed Entrance” and “Plastic Plant”. Much like “Web” from the Mutilator record, “Dead Man’s Gun” opens with half-whispered staccato verses that self-destructs into squealing, heavily-distorted guitar solos and weird synth tangents. Then there’s the much weightier head-thrasher “Ticklish Warrior”, which offers a sludgy, guttural guitar riff and feet-stomping drums that end up overlapping on each other in unexpected ways. All throughout the record, Dwyer’s voice is beautifully muffled by the controlled albeit chaotic stream of white noise that’s become the band’s signature sound since before The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In.
The rest of the record houses many of those basic charms of previous albums, though the extended instrumental passage that is “Jammed Entrance” finds itself replete with fresh synthesizer blips, fuzzy Explosions in the Sky melodies, and early 80’s electro-motifs. Despite some subtle power pop sophistication, the album retains its break-neck speed when it needs it the most which is especially felt in the transitions between “Plastic Plant” and “Gelatinous Cube” – refusing to hold its breath even for just a little.
Things begin to mellow out though by the time “Unwrap The Fiend, Pt. 2” comes along offering itself as a natural lead in to “The Axis” — a mostly wordless, celestial dreamscape of wind-swept alien deserts and far-distant cosmic battles. Like being knocked out cold by a rollicking, blood-spattered hell on wheels, only to wake up floating lazily somewhere deep within the cosmic heavens.
The record as a whole is nothing too new, nor does it settle too heavily on what’s been done in the past. It more or less continues the conversation from last year’s Mutilator into something slightly more polished. It’s one of the best Thee Oh Sees albums to date – among a crazy long-list of others.